The New Pornographers / The Heavenly States
Taking a break as the opening band on the Belle & Sebastian tour, the New Pornographers stopped in Monday and headlined a gig at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA. The Heavenly States opened the show; they’re a four-piece band and feature a hook-heavy, tight guitar sound with the occasional violin and keys sprinkled in.
But back to the Pornographers, who are on tour in support of Twin Cinema, their third excellent album in six years. TNP are an amalgamation of sorts, consisting of a rotating group of musicians, but always fronted by Carl “A.C.” Newman. Vocalist Neko Case was not at the show, but Newman’s neice, Kathryn Calder, handled the “fairer sex” vocals quite nicely.
For this writer, this show was a “perfect storm” of sorts, but not in a “depressing/all the fishermen die” kind of way. It was my first time seeing TNP live, and I had anticipated this show as much as any in the past year. With three albums under their belts, they are just hitting their stride and have a ton of great songs to choose from. Finally, it was my first time witnessing a show at the Belly Up, conveniently located between Orange County and San Diego. It’s a great little venue to catch a band on the rise. And the New Pornographers are definitely on the rise.
They opened the show in a raucous fashion with the two catchiest songs on Twin Cinema, the title track and “Use It.” Four songs later, they started “The Bleeding Heart Show,” which took on a completely new meaning after seeing it live. With it’s “hey-la-hey-la” chorus near the end, along with the phenomenal drumming by Kurt Dahle, it’s the definition of “uplifting music.” That part of the song has sort of a Rusted Root/”Send Me On My Way” feel.
A few minutes later, they went into “Mass Romantic,” which really showcased Calder’s pipes. She sounded so good that I couldn’t tell the difference between her vocals and the ones originally laid down by Neko Case six years ago. The song also featured some impressive harmonizing, which was a bit reminiscent of the Mamas & the Papas. After the song, Calder lamented that her tambourine (which she bought in Chinatown) was on its last legs. Dahle quipped, “There are plenty of tambourines in Chinatown.”
At this point in the show, with the audience quiet between songs, a fan requested an unreleased track, “Graceland.” The Belly Up is an intimate venue, so Newman pursues a conversation:
Newman: You sounded like one of the old men from The Muppet Show.
Fan: <starts to sing> “I’m going to Graceland.”
Newman: <asks the band> Should we play it for him?
Newman: Let’s do it.
After the song, Newman muttered, “I love the quiet requests.”
They closed the main set with two great tunes, “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” After a short break, they came back out, and I heard Newman say, “We didn’t plan anything.” So, feeling the moment, I decided to request one of my favorite Pornographer tunes, “Fake Headlines.” To my surprise, Newman replied, “Yeah, we can play ‘Headlines.’” Keep in mind, bands never play my requests – to the point where I’ve pretty much stopped requesting.
After “Headlines” and “The Body Says No,” they took another short break and the audience started stomping. The band reemerged and Newman said, “The stomping is like alcohol to our ears.” They knocked out “Jackie” and “Execution Day” and called it a night.
The New Pornographers put on a tremendous show, playing 20 songs in about an hour and a half. They are on the top of their game – the talent is there and the energy is high. If you can, I recommend seeing them as a headliner, as they are only getting 10-15 songs opening for Belle & Sebastian.
Here’s the full set list:
The Laws Have Changed
The End of Medicine
The Bleeding Heart Show
Testament to Youth in Verse
The Jessica Numbers
Jackie, Dressed In Cobras
From Blown Speakers
Miss Teen Wordpower
It’s Only Divine Right
The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
Sing Me Spanish Techno
The Body Says No